Scott Cunningham
April 17, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

The World Wrestling Federation may be king of the cable TV ring, but Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling isn’t going down without a fight. Aiming to pump up the frail franchise (”WWF Raw Is War” on USA is averaging 7.1 million viewers this year, while TNT’s ”WCW Monday Nitro” is luring only 3.25 million), Turner rehired former WCW president Eric Bischoff — the man who helped ”Nitro” break ratings records in ’96 and ’97.

”What we do will be tasteful and responsible,” says Bischoff, who insists he won’t resort to the WWF’s ”Howard Stern/Jerry Springer approach to content.” But the WWF isn’t exactly quaking in their boots. ”If the producers of ‘Suddenly Susan’ put someone in a lab coat, it doesn’t make [the show] ‘ER,”’ says Jim Byrne, the WWF’s senior VP of marketing. ”We’re on a different plane than they’re on.” Take it outside, boys!

‘RAYMOND’ DOT-COMEDY It’s a show-eat-show world out there — even for such tame fare as network comedy. That’s why even Emmy-nominated sitcoms need a gimmick. Consider this tactic by CBS’ ”Everybody Loves Raymond”: The four-year-old series will be asking viewers to log on to after the May 22 season finale to vote on whether Ray’s romantically challenged brother Robert (Brad Garrett) should reunite with his ex-wife (Suzie Plakson>), stay with girlfriend Amy (Monica Horan), or play the field. ”We’ll consider everything,” says exec producer Phil Rosenthal. ”The people may know better than us.”

Industry analysts say promotions such as this are necessary in today’s competitive environment. ”The Drew Carey Show,” for instance, has mastered the art of hype with musical episodes, Internet simulcasts, and annual April Fools’ episodes. ”That first musical number broke ‘The Drew Carey Show’ out as one that was different from all of the other sitcoms,” says an exec close to the show. As for the ”Raymond” cast, they’ll be breaking out again this fall: CBS is sending them to Italy to shoot the fifth-season opener.

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